Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Italy Is A Smart Grid Pioneer

In the early days of commercial electric power, transmission of electric power at the same voltage as used by lighting and mechanical loads restricted the distance between generating plant and consumers.

In 1882 electrical plants produced only direct current.   However, because different users required different voltages electricity specialization of lines and because transmission was so inefficient that generators needed to be near their loads, it seemed at the time that the industry would develop into what is now known as a distributed generation system with large numbers of small generators located nearby their loads.

One of the earliest pioneers of long distance electrical transmission was built in Cerchi, Italy in 1886.

On May 16, 1888, Nikola Tesla delivered a lecture entitled A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers, describing the equipment which allowed efficient generation and use of polyphase alternating currents. The transformer, and Tesla's polyphase and single-phase induction motors, were essential for a combined AC distribution system for both lighting and machinery. Ownership of the rights to the Tesla patents was a key advantage to the Westinghouse Company in offering a complete alternating current power system for both lighting and power. Regarded as one of the most influential electrical innovations, the universal system used transformers to step-up voltage from generators to high-voltage transmission lines.

By allowing multiple generating plants to be interconnected over a wide area, electricity production cost was reduced. The most efficient available plants could be used to supply the varying loads during the day. Reliability was improved and capital investment cost was reduced, since stand-by generating capacity could be shared over many more customers and a wider geographic area. Remote and low-cost sources of energy, such as hydroelectric power or mine-mouth coal, could be exploited to lower energy production cost.

The rapid industrialization in the 20th century made electrical transmission lines and grids a critical part of the infrastructure in most industrialized nations. Interconnection of local generation plants and small distribution networks was greatly spurred by the requirements of World War I, where large electrical generating plants were built by governments to provide power to munitions factories. Later these plants were connected to supply civil load through long-distance transmission.

Nikola Tesla's ideas have served us well for 120 years - but now with concerns about global warming, increased dependence on electrical appliances, developments in information technology and renewable energy - there is a need for for an even more efficient and optimizing system.   This new concept, which is referred to as the smart grid.

The earliest, and still largest, example of a smart grid is the Italian system installed by Enel S.p.A. of Italy. Completed in 2005, the Telegestore project was highly unusual in the utility world because the company designed and manufactured their own meters, acted as their own system integrator, and developed their own system software. The Telegestore project is widely regarded as the first commercial scale use of smart grid technology to the home, and delivers annual savings of 500 million euro at a project cost of 2.1 billion euro.

Let's hear it for Italian engineering and innovation.   In my opinion it doesn't get the worldwide recognition that it deserves.

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